It’s no surprise that with darkening evenings, blustery winds and miserable rain, we can get a little down. But while for most of us, our misery is an afterthought, others suffer severely from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In the workplace, the negative impact of SAD needs to be handled carefully. So, what can a HR Department do about it?
First of all, can SAD really be something so serious that we need to worry about its effects in work? The short answer is: yes, definitely!
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a very real condition that has very definite effects on key aspects of a modern workplace environment, from interaction and employee engagement to concentration and productivity. And its prevalence amongst the workforce is surprisingly high.
According to some research, just 1 in every 15 people (7%) in the UK and Ireland suffer from the condition between the months of September and April.
A 2014 article in HR Review reported on research that showed 20% of UK employees called in sick to work due to what it called ‘low enthusiasm as a result of winter’. And when asked how winter affected them, they detailed a range of ways.
- 60% said it was harder to get out of bed
- 59% said they had decreased levels of motivation
- 58% said they developed depression
- 52% said they had a greater susceptibility to illness
The figures are similar in the US, where 6% of the population have Seasonal Affective Disorder, and 14% experience the ‘Winter Blues’, a more general version, every year. However, depression is estimated to cost businesses an estimated $26 billion every year in direct treatment and $51 billion in absenteeism.
And in contrasts between January and July, Employee Assistance Services receive increased calls for anxiety (33%), depression (30%) and stress (22%).
Handling Seasonal Affective Disorder
Clearly, the impact SAD has on the workers and the workplace is significant, but it means HR Departments need to introduce measures to support staff with SAD. We have a few straightforward ways in which you can help employees suffering from SAD.
- Talk About It, De-Stigmatize It
The first error that HR can make is to avoid the problem completely. They turn a blind eye and just hope the employees showing the symptoms pull themselves together eventually. But this only stigmatizes SAD sufferers, leading to a sense of isolation, even guilt.
By speaking about SAD in medical terms, and encouraging sufferers to talk with them, managers make clear to sufferers that they will not be left isolated.
- Let employees know on the staff noticeboard
- Create an employee newsletter giving information and advice
- Offer support talks during lunch-hour or break time
Like any health issue, SAD should be a condition for which assistance is offered. HR personnel can organise a specific employee assistance program. Remember, people with SAD appear tired, are lethargic and disinterested, and tend to be more irritable. Their concentration levels plummet and find it difficult to sleep. They can also withdraw from social interaction.
Identifying sufferers, some of whom may not even be aware of their condition themselves, is an important step. A screening program can be initiated to help do this.
- Ask managers to observe their team members’ moods
- Meet for one-to-one discreet discussions
- Offer list of online resources for sufferers
A practical measure is to alter the working day hours to ensure maximum exposure to daylight. This means making special temporary arrangements for employees with SAD, helping them to avoid the ‘dark morning’ commutes. Any time loss can be made up over the weekend, but there are other ways too to increase exposure to natural daylight.
- Offer late start-early finish times
- Offer extended remote working times
- Promote extended ‘outdoor’ lunch hours
Look at the employee’s working environment and how it can be improved to help SAD employees overcome their disorder. The biggest difference can be made in heat and light, so ensure that heating systems work and that temperatures are sufficiently high without becoming unbearable.
Office lighting can be improved through the use daylight bulbs and daylight tubes, which emit light that is the closest match to daylight – some with a Colour Rendering Index (CRI) rating of 96%.
- Switch to daylight bulbs or tubes
- Check office temperatures
- Remove solid partitions to maximize natural light
- Introduce quiet zones to help battle stress and anxiety
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